Margaret and Giulio Pontecorvo – The Martha’s Vineyard Times

Giulio Pontecorvo, an economics professor who taught at Columbia University for four decades and served as an advisor to U.S. and foreign governments, including the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the U.S. Department of commerce, the law of the sea Institute and the U.S. Department of State, passed away on Sunday, September 26, 2021 at his home in Manhattan. He was 98 years old.

Dr. Pontecorvo was born on July 24, 1923, to Giulio Pontecorvo Sr., an Italian immigrant, and Sarah Dorothy Scott, in Little Falls, NJ Giulio Sr. was an engineer who worked for Westinghouse during World War I, and his mother expressed his love of the fine arts by opening an antique store in Montclair, NJ

Margaret Pontecorvo died at the age of 99 on Friday July 8, 2022 at Calvary Hospital in the Bronx.

Margaret Mary Pontecorvo, née Thatcher, was born in Bend, Oregon on June 26, 1923, to Evelyn and Ivan Thatcher, the third of five children: Earl, Eleanor, Margaret, Frank, and Jack. She attended high school in Bend and later attended Oregon State College in Corvallis, where she joined Chi Omega sorority.

Home during a summer break from college, Margaret and her friends attended USO events at Camp Abbot, the military training center where newly enlisted recruits received basic training. It was there that she met Giulio, while having a picnic at Lake Suttle in Bend. Giulio was replacing his scheduled date, Benjamin Franklin Jones, who had been forced to cancel at the last minute due to disciplinary action. The event led to Giulio and Margaret’s wedding in 1947.

Margaret returned to school and earned her master’s degree in library science, which led to her taking up the position of librarian at Spring Valley Elementary School at a time when many roles were closed to women. Besides running the library, Margaret loved story time, where she read to children and introduced them to new books and ideas. She continued to visit New City after moving to New York in the mid-1980s.

Margaret was a thoughtful, articulate and caring friend who had the courage to think for herself and stand up for her beliefs. She was also an excellent bridge player. Although she prioritized the needs of her family and her husband, her independent spirit supported a rich social life full of lasting friendships and meaningful pursuits.

Dr. Pontecorvo’s attendance at Dartmouth College was interrupted by his voluntary service during World War II, where he served as a combat engineer in the 70th Trailblazer Division, seeing action against the desperate German defense of Saarbrücken and the invasion of Germany, marking the end of the war. Returning to Dartmouth after the war, he completed his undergraduate and master’s studies in economics and married the love of his life, Margaret Thatcher, whom he met during his basic training. He obtained a doctorate. in economics at the University of California, Berkeley, in 1956.

Dr. Pontecorvo was an assistant professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder, Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, and was named a full professor at Columbia in 1968. He was named professor emeritus in 1994.

It was at Bowdoin College that his interest began to focus on the economics of fishing, and it was there that service as an adviser, teacher and mentor began to become the central focus of his life. In 1964 he was invited to the University of Buenos Aires as a guest lecturer to advise on the fishing industry in Argentina, followed by an assessment of anchovy production in Peru, and a stint as a Fulbright visiting lecturer at the University of Bergen in Norway in 1967. This led to appointments to numerous advisory positions for government agencies including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Law of the Sea, International Marine Science Affairs Policy Committee of the National Academy of Sciences, the United States Department of State for the Law of the Sea Negotiations, and many others.

His contributions in the public sector complemented his work as a professor at Columbia’s Graduate Business School. It was here that he excelled as a teacher and mentor. Quoting his students: “Your discreet but unwavering support and encouragement were instrumental in helping me see my way through the obstacle course of the doctoral program…In a world of conflicting and sometimes conflicting and unrealistic expectations, yours was the voice of continuity, reason and encouraging demands…Thank you for being who you were and to have done what you did. You set a distinct and worthy example that deserves to be replicated, but will be impossible to imitate.

From a letter to Dr. Pontecorvo from Dr. Eli Ginzburg, also a Columbia professor, who served as an adviser to eight U.S. presidents and whose work led to the desegregation of the U.S. military, “You have been a major contributor to efforts to trying to keep the faculty and [Columbia Business School] in an intellectual orbit that respects quality and makes sense.

Dr. Pontecorvo has published countless books, articles, studies and academic reports. Although none of them made the bestseller list, they were highly regarded in academic circles. And somehow he found time to support his local community library – he was responsible for a new library building in New City, NY, and a fourfold increase in the library budget.

Giulio and Margaret first brought their family to Chilmark on the Vineyard for a month in the mid-1960s. It quickly became a family tradition, followed soon after by the construction of a home in Aquinnah. Summers on the vineyard have become a treasured family experience that is passed down to younger generations.

Giulio and Margaret are survived by their four sons, Michael, Guy, Anthony and Andrew, and their families. Giulio, beloved husband, father, teacher and mentor, and Margaret, beloved wife, mother, librarian, gardener and faithful friend, will be missed. Margaret and Giulio will be buried together on Saturday, August 6 at Aquinnah Cemetery at 2 p.m.

Charitable donations in Margaret and Giulio’s name can be sent by check payable to Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah), Donations, c/o Barbara Spain, 20 Black Brook Road, Aquinnah, MA 02535-1546.

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